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Importing Rams from the U.S.: Get ready for headaches.

One major challenge that we have here at Borderlands Farm is that the breeds of sheep we have here are not common in most of Canada. Therefore, when we need to source new rams, we generally have to look ‘south’. First, there is the challenge of finding breeders with both the breed and characteristics we want. I bring up the second point because, for those of you who follow us, the quality of the fleece is very, very important to us. Not all breeders who have the same breed have the same priority when it comes to the characteristics as many breeding programs would be focused on traits related to meat production. Since fleece quality is one of our top priorities, we must visit in person and let Beverly see and feel the rams’ fleece.

When I said ‘south’, you might have assumed I meant southern Ontario but I am actually talking about the United States. Which means there is another reason for the visit and it is because of a much greater challenge! We have to import the rams back across the border! First, as I just mentioned we want Beverly’s blessing on the fibre, but the other reason is that the importing process is no small task. The paperwork will require data specific to each ram – so besides the quality selection, I have to consider whether all the information we need to start is available, whether the breeder is willing to work with us on securing further documentation and completing the testing and whether I think the permit will be approved. It is significantly easier to start gathering this information in-person.

When we imported two rams roughly two years ago, we ended up purchasing them from the University of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, this time around, the University’s flock didn’t have anything suitable. However, the people we were dealing with then (and have kept in touch with) also have their own flocks. We visited several different flocks at different farms and found what we (mostly Beverly) were looking for. We also saw a Lincoln ram but Beverly has already covered that whole story in her recent blog. Then the discussions shifted to the various requirements I would need to meet for the import permit process. The advantage for me was that they had been exposed to the additional information requirements from the last time. On the downside side we wouldn’t have the ‘university infrastructure’ and we would have to use a different veterinarian who hadn’t been exposed to the additional border crossing requirements. However, since I knew what I needed to have to start the permit process, we came up with an action plan before we left to return back to the farm.

After I got the initial information I needed, I applied for an import permit from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on August 24th but it wasn’t quite that straight-forward. I had last done one over two years prior and my log-ins, etc. had all expired. At first, I was frustrated by the process to update my access but got very lucky and ended up talking to one agent who was a great help – in fact an even greater help further along but more on that later.

The first holdup was my fault – one of the many forms required my signature multiple times and I missed the last one. I corrected that and re-submitted. Unfortunately, every delay is not measured in ‘days’ but in ‘weeks’. I was applying for a ‘three months’ permit to bring the rams across – I would have a 3 month ‘window’ once the permit was approved to go get the rams. The CFIA permit review group wanted to know exact dates I would be crossing the border and I said I didn’t know – that it depended on when the permit was approved and when the government (CFIA) veterinarian was available. The last point is a major hurdle!

We use the Pigeon River border crossing which does not have a vet stationed there so I have to contact the government vet for Northern Ontario to have him meet us at the border. He is not always available and even when he is, his timeframe during a business day is constrained. His role at the border is two-fold: first, to review all the paperwork and second, to check that the ear tag in each ram’s ear is what the paperwork ‘says’. As well, he has to fill in his paperwork which includes his impression of each ram’s health, that there was sufficient bedding and water in the trailer, when/where did I stop to check on them, proof that I had enough hay – that type of thing.

Getting back to the permit process, the CFIA permit review group then rejected the application due to missing information/signatures on the initial US paperwork. What became extremely frustrating about this was that while CFIA had changed their requirements, the US side was not aware of the change and wasn’t really prepared to make any corresponding changes in any kind of timely manner. To solve this, we manually added the required information with the cooperation of the US vet the seller used. I had her sign where appropriate, and I re-submitted the forms. The system said the upload was successful and at that point said the information was received. I checked daily for a week and then tried to contact them – this group won’t take calls and even the CFIA agents outside of this group can’t contact them directly! I was directed to send an email and then I waited. When I did get a reply, the message was exactly what had been sent before basically saying they hadn’t received anything from me.

So, I re-did it and then checked again – no change in the application’s status. I then started phoning and after many calls, got a big break – I got the same agent whom I had received help from at the beginning! After I filled her in, she said this shouldn’t happen – she was able to verify that the review group had indeed received the required information and she said she would send them an email. If I didn’t hear anything back, I was to email her at an address she gave me. After three days of hearing nothing, I followed her instructions and emailed her back. I think it was within 24 hours I had a reply from her which I point out because it is so unusual and yet so appreciated. Her email said she couldn’t help. However, in writing she confirmed I had complied with all their requests and further said that the permit group has significantly exceeded the amount of time CFIA allowed. She also gave me an email address and suggested I write to them directly. I did one better and forwarded her email to the permit group. Guess what? I got an approved permit the next day - November 2nd! Detail-oriented readers will note that this was 10 weeks after the first application.

Having permit in hand so to speak, I then contacted the US people I would need help from – the seller and his veterinarian. The veterinarian was key as I now needed USDA approved paperwork that she had to submit/sign along with the now-approved import permit. I had to present all the paperwork to the CFIA vet for his approval to allow the rams across the border. I sent them emails also on November 2nd with information plus the approved permit. I also had sent an additional email that same day about timing in terms of scheduling the trip. Both Beverly and I had upcoming eye surgeries so the only time we could make the trip down and back was the week of November 13th. The big question was: could all the paperwork and the necessary arrangements happen in so short a timeframe?

We gambled that it would.

Beverly and I headed down to southern Wisconsin on Tuesday November 15th. We showed the US border guard a copy of our invoice for the rams, answered questions about what is a ram and why are we doing this, and were let into the US. I texted the people down there and said “we are on our way!”. No, we didn’t have all the paperwork – it was still in process. However, by the time we reached the designated farm to drop off the stock trailer at around 7:00 pm, the paperwork had come through. Hurray! Not so fast!

I immediately emailed all the paperwork to our CFIA vet. First thing next morning, I phoned him to make him aware he now had it and remind him of our tight timeframe. and that we were on our way to pick up the rams. He called back to say it was approved except he was concerned about some ‘white-out’ that appeared to have been used. No big deal, right? Wrong. We had loaded the rams and were about an hour into our trip back when he phoned back to say he had gone to his boss about the ‘white-out’ and his boss said that made the forms unacceptable. I responded that we were not stopping, Beverly had an eye appointment on Friday and we would be at the border 24 hours from now on Thursday to meet him so this needs to be resolved ASAP. One thing I left out was that the US vet got married on the Saturday and was on a mini-honeymoon (a surprise to all of us) that “we” kept interrupting – she managed to re-do and submit the offending page(s) and I got notified Thursday morning ‘everything’ was ‘good’.

We managed to make it to the border a bit ahead of time which worked out since we have found crossing the border is a time-consuming exercise when you have sheep in a livestock trailer. I previously mentioned some of the tasks involved with the vet that happen at this point and then there is additional paperwork required by the Border Agency when you are bringing livestock across. The paperwork I am referring to involves taxes (what else?), in this case the HST. For all of you who cross the border after purchasing something in the US, you know what I am talking about. However, there isn’t supposed to be any HST applied to farm livestock but the Border Agency people didn’t know that and tried to charge us. Finally, one agent listened and was able to confirm that in fact farm livestock is HST exempt but we still had to do the paperwork. However, when we entered “Borderlands Farm” into their system they couldn’t find the corresponding HST number that should have been attached to our import license! Fortunately, Beverly got in touch with Gwendolyn who found our number and it finally worked. I haven’t had time yet to investigate this as to ‘why’ – I just know it won’t be a 5-minute call!

The rams survived the trip as did Beverly and I. Hopefully I will forget the frustration of this by the time I have to repeat it all again in roughly two years….

Image 1: Bryan trying to entice the first Targhee ram (closest sheep to the camera) to come say hi.

Image 2: A close-up of the secondTarghee Ram (yet to be named) beside Dot with Bryan in the background.

Image 3: The second Targhee Ram in the forefront with Bryan behind him.

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